Imagine its the year 2051, or
whatever will be your centennial birthday. Generations of your children are gathered at
the family place, the gracious home you live in now. Theyve come from near and far
to honor your longevity; its a truly grand occasion. Now imagine the backyard scene:
picnic tables heavy with your favorite foods await the partygoers, shaded by the huge tree
you planted way back in 1998.
Every home deserves a great tree. Take a look at the house from
the street to get an idea about placement. A large tree should be planted far enough from
any structure to let it develop its natural form without severe pruning. Its basic shape
may be spreading above its trunk to create shade or upright and conical with leaves
reaching to the ground. Each makes a strong design statement. Shade trees extend and then
soften the lines of the house they shelter, while cone shapes provide strong, uplifting
vertical lines. Both make excellent focal points in your landscape.
To choose the best tree to become your legacy, go to nearby
arboretums and botanical gardens, or cruise around old city parks and neighborhoods to see
a wide variety of mature trees that thrive in your area. Notice whether they live in sun
or shade, if the tree stands in water or on a slope, where the lawn around it stops, and
how much space it takes up. Then select a similar spot in your garden. When buying the
tree, select one with healthy leaves, no cuts on the trunk, and remember this: a tree that
is between six and ten feet tall this year will take no longer to mature than one that is
already fifteen feet tall.
Dig a hole for your tree based on its container size: twice as
wide as it is, and half again deeper. Mix native soil with any amendments necessary,
usually organic matter and fertilizers. Tap the edge of the container on a hard surface to
loosen the roots, slide the ball out and spread the roots or slice through the sides of a
solid root mass. Use the soil mix to create a mound in the hole and gently place the roots
in it. Backfill around the tree with mix, leaving a well around its edge to hold water.
Irrigate well, using root stimulator or starter solution fertilizer, then mulch. Do not
stake trees for more than one year.
Water weekly for the first month of your trees life; if you
want to add fertilizer, use only root stimulator initally. For the first year, make
monthly maintenance a part of your garden rhythm to give your tree long life and
prosperity. Water deeply unless snow cover or torrential rain takes care of that. Keep a
watchful eye for insects and other leaf problems. Spots may be sunburn or fungus, gray
coating is likely mildew, and chewed leaves often mean dining caterpillars. All can be
more easily controlled early on, with plenty of recovery time for the tree. Should a tree
you plant wilt immediately and does not recover by spring, scratch its bark to see if
green remains. If it does, tip prune the tree.
To maximize growth, fertilize with a complete tree formula (one
containing N-P-K and trace elements) in the spring and a winterizer in fall. Once
established, hardy trees rely on rainfall and benefit from annual fertilizer applications.
A final caveat on growing great trees: mortal wounds from
lawnmowers and string trimmers kill more trees than any insect or disease, so keep them
Each region boasts great trees befitting a legacy. Wherever you
live, theres an oak (Quercus sp.) to suit the climate. White Oak (Q. alba) sets the
standard nationwide, but others like live oak in the deep south or burr oak (hardy even in
zone 2) have equal appeal. Bald cypress, like the other legacy trees, can grow to 50 feet
tall in as many years. The spectacular Ginkgo bilobas leaves turn bold gold
overnight in autumn. Like Ginkgo, the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) came
back from near extinction to its present popularity in our lifetime. Perhaps thats
another good reason to plant one: humans quite nearly lost these magnificent trees, but
humans also restored them to our gardens.